Film Criticism

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domino harvey
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#76 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 29, 2008 2:27 pm

Mr_sausage wrote:
domino harvey wrote:
Fletch F. Fletch wrote:Veteran San Francisco Chronicle film reviewer Mick LaSalle recently wrote an article about some of the classic films he has never seen in his 20+ years as a professional critic. It raises some interesting issues about how well versed a film critic for a national publication should be. I never really cared too much for his reviews but take a look at his casual dismissal of 2001.
Outside of 2001, none of the films he sees are considered "classics" by anyone I've ever met
You've never met anyone who considers Blade Runner a classic?
Of course not

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MichaelB
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#77 Post by MichaelB » Sat Mar 01, 2008 4:49 am

The comments are worth reading, especially this one:
For example, you should have seen all the top 100 films for the past 5 years. Your readers expect nothing less from you than total professionalism.
Which "top 100 films" are these, and defined by whom? (And why do I get the impression that he's referring to English-language box-office successes?)

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Awesome Welles
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#78 Post by Awesome Welles » Sat Mar 01, 2008 7:32 am

I can certainly sympathise with this:
In my leisure hours, I often watch movies, but those leisure hours are precious, so when I do watch a movie, it has to be something I really want to see. There are plenty of classics that I want to see, plenty that I'm excited to see, but then there are titles that seem merely obligatory - and it's very easy to postpone seeing the obligatory ones, and to keep postponing them indefinitely.
But why didn't he see these 'obligatory' movies before he became a critic, I find it hard to believe he came right out of school became a critic and has been too busy to see them for God knows how many years.

I remember reading a similar article in Empire magazine, the critics at the magazine did an article on the films they had never seen, which included The Godfather and Citizen Kane; it made me realise what I hadn't been missing (I hadn't read the magazine in a long time and bought it for a plane journey).

It makes me wonder what classics I have missed that I should see, Gone With the Wind comes to mind, though there are many, many more.

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#79 Post by MichaelB » Sat Mar 01, 2008 7:56 am

FSimeoni wrote:But why didn't he see these 'obligatory' movies before he became a critic, I find it hard to believe he came right out of school became a critic and has been too busy to see them for God knows how many years.
Well, there's obligatory and obligatory. My definition of "obligatory" largely relates to what I'm writing about at any given moment - for instance, when I was asked to review Wilderness, a low-budget British slasher movie, I spent a week catching up on half a dozen other recent genre entries so I'd have a useful frame of reference (I was already pretty familiar with the genre up to about 2000ish). And I generally don't take on reviews of work by big names unless I'm pretty familiar with their work already - or can get sufficiently familiar before the deadline.

But it's absolutely impossible to see every "obligatory" movie, especially if you have a wide frame of reference, as there aren't enough hours in the day. In fact, because I'm a specialist in British and Eastern European cinema, I have very little time to keep up to date with American films these days - at the Oscars last week, I'd seen more of the Best Foreign Film nominees (two) than I had Best Picture ones (one - predictably, Atonement).

On the other hand, even though I haven't seen Gone With The Wind either, I'm well aware of its historical and cultural importance, so it's hardly a case of being completely in the dark. And if I'm ever in a situation where not having seen it might be a serious disadvantage, I'll watch it like a shot.

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#80 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Mar 01, 2008 11:22 am

The biggest indefensible gaps in my knowledge so far would have to be DeMille - I've seen The Godless Girl in the third Treasures From Film Archives set and have King of Kings (but have not yet sat down to watch it) but nothing else, not even the 50s films - and Eisenstein (I have only seen the films in Criterion's 'Sound Years' set)

One of the exciting things about film is that it is constantly growing, not just with the new stuff but also in rediscovering the old. I was pretty familiar with the more famous Kurosawa films before Criterion but Tokyo Story was the only Ozu I'd seen until 2002 or so when I picked up Good Morning. And Naruse was just one of those names that I would hear but never think I would actually get to see any of the films by!

And I only saw my first Antonioni in 2003 - in those kinds of situations you can only apologise that you left it so long!

In the end watching films should be interesting and/or fun rather than a chore so I can understand why given the choice people choose to focus on their favourite areas, but at the same time it is important to push yourself into different or less liked areas - at the very least for variety.

I have often wondered whether the greatest challenge in reviewing films for a living is keeping the same enthusiasm up - I get the impression you have to have passion for cinema in general before you then move into your favourite areas because if you are asked to tackle something outside of your specialism it helps it to feel like less of a chore!

I would agree with MichaelB about how necessary it is if being asked to make an informed opinion about something to do research around the subject as well as reviewing the film itself - it can also give you more ways of tackling the review if you can put it into context. (In the Kim Newman and Alan Jones commentary for The Bird With The Crystal Plumage they describe a critic reviewing another giallo film called Strip Nude For Your Killer and leaving to write his review after the killer was supposedly caught - unfortunately not realising that many giallo films have fake reveals and multiple murderers!) I guess there are as many techniques for film criticism as there are film reviewers and it all depends on what style suits you, but I would be very interested in finding out more about the process (research, notes, drafting - do people write to a word count and does that affect the kind of review they would produce, or would a review be written without those considerations and then cut down after the fact?)

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#81 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Mar 01, 2008 11:55 am

The advantages of being an amateur film-watcher -- I am not obliged to watch anything and have no need to defend all the huge gaps in my viewing history.

No matter what one thinks of 2001, this guys comment on it are positively witless.

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#82 Post by MichaelB » Sat Mar 01, 2008 1:33 pm

colinr0380 wrote: I guess there are as many techniques for film criticism as there are film reviewers and it all depends on what style suits you, but I would be very interested in finding out more about the process (research, notes, drafting - do people write to a word count and does that affect the kind of review they would produce, or would a review be written without those considerations and then cut down after the fact?)
It does vary enormously, depending on all sorts of factors - the length of the commissioned piece, the target audience, the publication's house style, whether you're reviewing off a DVD or a one-off theatrical screening, how much background material is supplied by the distributors (which ranges from nothing to a one-page press release to a massive sheaf of documentation) and so on.

My own experience will be different from that of, say, a national newspaper critic, in that instead of having a fixed-length column to fill with details of every release that week, I tend to write about individual films - and I usually have two or three weeks between commission and deadline. I have turned pieces around in 24 hours in my time (sometimes even less - I once knocked out a space-filling 600-word intro to Luis Buñuel in about an hour), but they're still in the minority.

But, that said...

Research

Three key decisions here: how much research do I need to do, how easy is it is to get hold of the relevant materials, and when do I need to do it?

When considering how much research, the critical factor is whether I have enough time to get up to speed in advance of the screening. I had a week's notice of the screening of Wilderness, so I rented half a dozen recent British horror films (including Michael J. Bassett's debut feature) and watched at least one every night in the run-up. On the other hand, if I only get a day's notice (or less - I've done reviews at a few minutes' notice!), I obviously have to be much more selective. But I do usually try to watch at least one other film by one of the major creative contributors in advance of the screening - usually, though not invariably, the director.

When reviewing an adaptation of a famous literary work, the question of whether to read it varies depending on the situation. If it's a really famous novel, the answer is usually "yes" - but if I haven't read it already, I generally prefer to leave it until after the screening, so I can more accurately assess what the film's like on its own merits. An ideal scenario is the one I had with Fateless, when I had a DVD - so I could watch the film, read Imre Kertész's novel and then rewatch the film. (In this particular case, this helped enormously, as it confirmed that many of the film's more potentially contentious elements were in fact absolutely faithful to Kertész).

There's one exception where I made a point of reading the novel first, and that was a little-known British film of John Braine's novel The Jealous God. In this case, I only had one chance to watch the film, and gut instinct told me that the main points of interest would be whether or not it was faithful both to Braine's work and to the spirit of the British New Wave (which its director seemed to want to revive single-handed) - so before the screening I read both the novel and Braine's Room at the Top, and finally found an excuse to catch up with Jack Clayton's seminal film version. Unfortunately, all three turned out to be vastly superior to the film under review, but there you go. (I tend to be very conscientious with Sight & Sound reviews of relatively obscure films, as there's every possibility mine will be the longest piece of English-language criticism it gets - so I'm very concerned about fairness and accuracy, even if it's a negative review).

Notes

These vary enormously, depending on the commission. If it's a capsule film or DVD review (200 words or less), my notes tend to be quite sparse, if I make any at all - because I won't have room to go into much depth. This is especially true of a capsule DVD review - I have a maximum of 175 words to cover Milestone's Dragon Painter, which I could easily fill with a factual description of the disc's contents (two features, a short, plus tons of background info).

On the other hand, if it's a full-length Sight & Sound piece complete with synopsis, and if I only get one shot at actually seeing the film, my note-taking is obsessive. I've just checked the ones for Midnight Talks, an extremely forgettable Polish romantic comedy, and they run to 24 pages - though because I'm writing in the dark (I don't have one of those glowing pens, largely because I suspect I'd find them very irritating if someone used one next to me), each page might only contain a widely-spaced cluster of maybe half a dozen sentences. I usually write the first draft from memory, but the notes are invaluable when adding colour to the final draft - and vital when writing the synopsis. (Sometimes distributors supply one, but they often don't, or sometimes it only gets partway in and trails off in an ellipsis - I got caught out by one of those once and took fewer notes than I should have done!).

Conversely, if I'm reviewing off a DVD (which I'd say is about 50% of the time, even when nominally covering new theatrical releases), I usually watch the film right the way through without taking notes, and then have the DVD playing on a reduced screen on my laptop when writing the final piece - that way I know in advance what's worth writing down.

Word Count/House Style

I'm almost always given a word count in advance when writing for print, and the piece I submit is always pretty much bang on target. There's no point doing anything else, as if you don't cut it yourself someone else will - and it probably won't be the bit that you'd cut if it was your decision!

Sometimes the word count changes - for instance, my editor liked 1208 East of Bucharest so much that he asked for 1,000 words instead of the commissioned 850, and my review of Svankmajer's Lunacy (available here) was promoted to the lead item in that issue at almost the last minute, and I had about 24 hours to more or less double its length - fortunately, I had the DVD for reference.

One crucial difference between writing for the web (in most cases) and writing for print is that in the former case (say, DVD Times) you generally edit yourself, and in the latter case your piece will be run through a sub-editor and the section editor as a bare minimum, and sometimes the overall editor - and while you're generally consulted if they want significant changes, you generally don't get a chance to see the final piece before it goes to press.

On the whole, my experience has been positive - I generally don't look at the printed version too closely (that way lies madness), but it usually bears a very strong resemblance to what I submitted. But that's because I always read the style manual (if there is one) and try to familiarise myself with the publication in advance - I'd be mad not to, as regular freelance work from the same publications is a godsend, and you're only going to get that if you have a reputation for reliability.

Things are generally more flexible when writing for the web. If you're a trusted contributor to a site like DVD Times, you pretty much make up your own rules once you're given the keys to the asset management system. On Screenonline, we have a maximum 400 words for pieces on individual films/TV programmes, but are more flexible with biographies or overviews - though as the writers are paid by the word, any excess gets ruthlessly pruned prior to publication.

As for general stylistic issues, I don't think I've ever written in the first person for Sight & Sound, and I've rarely not written that way for DVD Times - there are lots of other differences, but that's one of the major ones. But it's not something I tend to think about too much - if you've notched up several years writing regularly for the same publications, you pretty much do it by instinct.

Drafting

I usually write a first draft very quickly and in a single sitting - ideally within 24 hours of seeing the film. Quite often, this will bear a very close resemblance to the final draft in terms of content, but there'll be lots of tweaking along the way (and sometimes more drastic changes - shifting a paragraph can make a surprisingly big difference). I don't generally worry about word counts at this stage, because I've been doing it for so long that I know pretty much by instinct how much to write - and the draft is usually within a couple of hundred words of the target regardless.

If I have time (I usually have a fortnight or so between screening and deadline), I then put it away for 24 hours, as I can usually spot numerous things that need changing after a short break. Two of my best friends are Italian and Polish, and I also have French, German and Spanish colleagues, so I often run drafts by them if the film shares their nationality, so they can highlight cultural missteps or misapprehensions or provide other background info. I may also be doing further background research at this stage.

And then the second draft is written, often on top of the first draft, and also in a single sitting. It's very rare that I'll go to a third draft - in fact, aside from the Lunacy case (where I had to extend the piece significantly), I can't think of one.

And then you submit the piece and cross your fingers...

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#83 Post by domino harvey » Sat Mar 01, 2008 3:26 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:No matter what one thinks of 2001, this guys comment on it are positively witless.
Quite true. I'm certainly no fan of Kubrick or the movie, but how he goes about "defending" his position is embarrassing.

Casual film viewer naturally are under no regulations for what they must view, though you would think a film lover would seek out all he/she could. However, I think there are certain films which should be required viewing for film students. I can't tell you how many times a lesson has been impossible because the students haven't seen the Birth of a Nation or Citizen Kane or Psycho etc-- these may or may not be everyone's "favorite" films, but so much study, criticism, and theory is built upon these films that to be in a film program without exposure to them is ludicrous. Naturally this brings about the very real problem of defining what should or should not be in a film studies cannon, but there are still probably at least twenty or so films that everyone can more or less (perhaps begrudgingly) admit are Important for film scholars just in terms of their coverage, films like (off the top of my head) Un chien andalou, The Kiss, Life of An American Fireman, Rear Window, Casablanca, Breathless, L'Atalante, the Godfather...

I think it's absurd to be a film reviewer and wear your deficiencies on your sleeve: it only takes two hours to rid yourself of an embarrassment like not seeing Citizen Kane, anyone who continues to stay in the dark is just doing it for the sake of being able to say they haven't seen it, which is depressing beyond belief.

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#84 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Mar 01, 2008 3:31 pm

domino harvey wrote:I think it's absurd to be a film reviewer and wear your deficiencies on your sleeve: it only takes two hours to rid yourself of an embarrassment like not seeing Citizen Kane, anyone who continues to stay in the dark is just doing it for the sake of being able to say they haven't seen it, which is depressing beyond belief.
Just renting the DVD and turning on your DVD player is clearly insufficient. This is what he seems to have done with 2001, if he had actually paid attention to the film (rather than working on a sudoku puzzle as the screen flickered away, unwatched), he would have had more to say than the vague generalities he offered up (even if he hated it).

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domino harvey
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#85 Post by domino harvey » Sat Mar 01, 2008 3:37 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
domino harvey wrote:I think it's absurd to be a film reviewer and wear your deficiencies on your sleeve: it only takes two hours to rid yourself of an embarrassment like not seeing Citizen Kane, anyone who continues to stay in the dark is just doing it for the sake of being able to say they haven't seen it, which is depressing beyond belief.
Just renting the DVD and turning on your DVD player is clearly insufficient. This is what he seems to have done with 2001, if he had actually paid attention to the film (rather than working on a sudoku puzzle as the screen flickered away, unwatched), he would have had more to say than the vague generalities he offered up (even if he hated it).
Or if he had sought out any of the critical work done on the film to perhaps properly contextualize 2001. I know I did my homework after not enjoying the film and even though I still don't, I feel like I gave it an honest effort towards understanding what others see in it. I just simply don't agree, but I still have enough respect for the film and its defenders to not write it off with a fey hand of ignorant arrogance.

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#86 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Mar 01, 2008 4:40 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
domino harvey wrote:I think it's absurd to be a film reviewer and wear your deficiencies on your sleeve: it only takes two hours to rid yourself of an embarrassment like not seeing Citizen Kane, anyone who continues to stay in the dark is just doing it for the sake of being able to say they haven't seen it, which is depressing beyond belief.
Just renting the DVD and turning on your DVD player is clearly insufficient. This is what he seems to have done with 2001, if he had actually paid attention to the film (rather than working on a sudoku puzzle as the screen flickered away, unwatched), he would have had more to say than the vague generalities he offered up (even if he hated it).
I think that is the difference between 'watching' and 'appreciating' a film - just thinking "I need to be able to say I have watched all Werner Herzog's films" and then picking up the boxsets and ploughing through them in a weekend to simply tick another one of the 'filmmakers to see before you die' boxes from your list seems to be missing the point of seeing a film in the first place.

I am also a big fan of revisiting films, even (or especially) if I did not get much out of them on a previous viewing, as our reactions can change to the same material depending on different viewing environments, different experiences the viewer has had and so on. I find film appreciation is a far more fluid process than simply viewing a film once can grasp. I like the idea of finding out how people's reactions have been modified by time, by seeing more films by a particular filmmaker or seeing more films released at around the same time. I do not feel that means someone was lying in their previous reaction and now they are 'correct' in their feelings, just that things change and that can be an exciting event to recognise in itself (I don't think star ratings and thumbs up or down reviews, needed to fulfil the most basic 'is this film good or not?' needs, take this into account - I am far more interested in hearing the reasoning behind those kind of black and white decisions in longer reviews).

Things seem a bit different when working to deadlines from someone like myself taking a month or two to slowly digest a Herzog boxset, as MichaelB showed in his fascinating post. Sometimes you have to bring yourself up to speed on a subject - and that is probably considered as an implied responsibility when taking on the task of writing for publication.

One of the other things MichaelB touches on above and in his Katyn posts is of considering the background information a filmmaker sometimes expects an audience to bring to a film (and that in the case of Katyn while it should be noted for international audiences that a film may not be the best introduction to a subject, it cannot really be considered a fault of the film since it is primarily intended to play to a certain audience)

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#87 Post by MichaelB » Sat Mar 01, 2008 6:44 pm

colinr0380 wrote:I think that is the difference between 'watching' and 'appreciating' a film - just thinking "I need to be able to say I have watched all Werner Herzog's films" and then picking up the boxsets and ploughing through them in a weekend to simply tick another one of the 'filmmakers to see before you die' boxes from your list seems to be missing the point of seeing a film in the first place.
I was very conscious of doing this a few months ago when I had a chance to interview Andrzej Wajda. I naturally said "yes" immediately - but then I had a fortnight of mad panic cramming literally everything I could get my hands on (a minimum of one film a day, often two - and Wajda isn't exactly lightweight fluff), because I suddenly realised just how few of his films I'd seen.

In the event, I was very happy indeed with how the interview turned out, and on the back of it I was asked to give a talk on Wajda to coincide with its eventual publication in May - but I'm going to be using the intervening two months to give myself a rather more leisurely trawl through his back catalogue.
I am also a big fan of revisiting films, even (or especially) if I did not get much out of them on a previous viewing, as our reactions can change to the same material depending on different viewing environments, different experiences the viewer has had and so on. I find film appreciation is a far more fluid process than simply viewing a film once can grasp. I like the idea of finding out how people's reactions have been modified by time, by seeing more films by a particular filmmaker or seeing more films released at around the same time. I do not feel that means someone was lying in their previous reaction and now they are 'correct' in their feelings, just that things change and that can be an exciting event to recognise in itself.
Your reactions are bound to change as your knowledge and experience changes. On a really fundamental level, becoming a parent has completely changed my attitude towards kids in films, particularly if they're under any kind of threat.
Things seem a bit different when working to deadlines from someone like myself taking a month or two to slowly digest a Herzog boxset, as MichaelB showed in his fascinating post. Sometimes you have to bring yourself up to speed on a subject - and that is probably considered as an implied responsibility when taking on the task of writing for publication.
...and while I hate turning down commissions, I've done so if I really don't think I can get up to speed on time. Only last week, I turned down a chance to interview John Sayles - which might well have been fascinating, but I haven't seen Honeydripper (or, I shamefacedly admit, pretty much anything since Lone Star) and had no realistic chance of catching up. And while I could happily have asked him about Piranha and Alligator till the proverbial cows came home, I think that would have rather missed the point.
One of the other things MichaelB touches on above and in his Katyn posts is of considering the background information a filmmaker sometimes expects an audience to bring to a film (and that in the case of Katyn while it should be noted for international audiences that a film may not be the best introduction to a subject, it cannot really be considered a fault of the film since it is primarily intended to play to a certain audience)
Absolutely. And I'm actually very conscious of the fact that my review of Polish romantic comedy Midnight Talks is probably going to be one of the better ones, as it mostly opened to a flurry of one and two-star slatings. But I suspect the national critics watched it in a small Soho screening room on a Tuesday morning, whereas I saw it in an evening screening in a packed cinema with a largely Polish audience. And while it's no great shakes as a film (and I certainly hope I made that clear), the audience reaction supplied enough genuine laughs to counter the "totally unfunny" tag that more than one critic slapped on it.

On the other hand, I'm not writing for Polish audiences, so I have to be honest about my own reaction as well...

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#88 Post by Awesome Welles » Sat Mar 01, 2008 9:09 pm

colinr0380 wrote:I am also a big fan of revisiting films, even (or especially) if I did not get much out of them on a previous viewing, as our reactions can change to the same material depending on different viewing environments, different experiences the viewer has had and so on. I find film appreciation is a far more fluid process than simply viewing a film once can grasp. I like the idea of finding out how people's reactions have been modified by time, by seeing more films by a particular filmmaker or seeing more films released at around the same time. I do not feel that means someone was lying in their previous reaction and now they are 'correct' in their feelings, just that things change and that can be an exciting event to recognise in itself.
Your reactions are bound to change as your knowledge and experience changes. On a really fundamental level, becoming a parent has completely changed my attitude towards kids in films, particularly if they're under any kind of threat.
I completely agree on all counts. I think certainly for me (and my own strange subconscious preoccupations) I feel a certain pressure to have seen this or that and have been so ravenous with watching so many films that I wonder when I watch a film whether I am going through the motions just to tick the box rather than to really appreciate the film. I guess because I watch so many films that I feel programmed to like them and wonder when I will watch something that I thought was bad (Man of Aran) or just plain ok (Au Hasard Balthazar). So when I have those very rare moments (as indicated) I feel like maybe that's not the case and just a bad case of paranoia (I am obviously not a well person) and that perhaps I am really enjoying all these films and don't feel guided by previous reviews or reputation, it's really my own opinion! And changes in my life have greatly impacted on my appreciation of films - and being at the age that I am and position of my life, my outlook of films is in constant flux.

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#89 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:54 am

MichaelB wrote:I was very conscious of doing this a few months ago when I had a chance to interview Andrzej Wajda. I naturally said "yes" immediately - but then I had a fortnight of mad panic cramming literally everything I could get my hands on (a minimum of one film a day, often two - and Wajda isn't exactly lightweight fluff), because I suddenly realised just how few of his films I'd seen.

Yikes! I remember being very proud for years of having videos of A Generation and Ashes And Diamonds then the excellent Criterion set came out and showed me just how much more I have to see (that is always a good thing to be reminded of!). Are many of his films available? Did you have to get them on Polish DVDs?

On the question of context, I think that is the where DVDs really come into their own in providing that background information and easing you into the right frame of mind to fully appreciate a film. I would like to think that would free filmmakers up to not have to create all purpose films for generalised audiences or introductions to their subjects and instead get straight into the meat of their story or subject secure in the knowledge that context or introduction can be provided on the disc later on for those who need it (I think we are still a little way off from that, as there still seems to be a gap in some cases between a filmmaker and their DVD, perhaps because there is an ongoing struggle over whether a DVD is more a marketing or 'film school' tool - so you get barebone discs for films in desperate need of explanatory features or something like the latest American Pie disc coming out with commentary and two hour behind the scenes documentary!)

I still find Criterion is almost unrivalled in providing that kind of total package from cover and menus to booklet and interviews - in fact the only criticism that could perhaps be made is that the best packages so sate the hunger for information that they make you feel their DVDs are the final word on the film! I'd like to think forums like this one open the debate back up and complement the discs by providing other points of view or approaches to tackling a film that were not covered, fully or at all.
...and while I hate turning down commissions, I've done so if I really don't think I can get up to speed on time. Only last week, I turned down a chance to interview John Sayles - which might well have been fascinating, but I haven't seen Honeydripper (or, I shamefacedly admit, pretty much anything since Lone Star) and had no realistic chance of catching up. And while I could happily have asked him about Piranha and Alligator till the proverbial cows came home, I think that would have rather missed the point.
Funnily enough John Sayles is another one of the big gaps in my knowledge. Until catching Limbo on television by chance a few weeks ago I had not really connected with his previous films - I think the big disappointment for me was reading the glowing reviews for Lone Star and then being a bit underwhelmed when I finally saw it. Luckily Limbo has inspired me to go back and try and actively seek out more of his films (I think I kept a video recording of Lone Star somewhere so it is now high on my list to dig out and reassess)

If there were any justice in the world Piranha should be spoken of in the same breath as Jaws! (In fact I prefer it in some ways as the humour works in a similar way to the later Gremlins in both actually being funny and making the horror hit harder!)
FSimeoni wrote:I completely agree on all counts. I think certainly for me (and my own strange subconscious preoccupations) I feel a certain pressure to have seen this or that and have been so ravenous with watching so many films that I wonder when I watch a film whether I am going through the motions just to tick the box rather than to really appreciate the film. I guess because I watch so many films that I feel programmed to like them and wonder when I will watch something that I thought was bad (Man of Aran) or just plain ok (Au Hasard Balthazar). So when I have those very rare moments (as indicated) I feel like maybe that's not the case and just a bad case of paranoia (I am obviously not a well person) and that perhaps I am really enjoying all these films and don't feel guided by previous reviews or reputation, it's really my own opinion! And changes in my life have greatly impacted on my appreciation of films - and being at the age that I am and position of my life, my outlook of films is in constant flux.
I've had similar experiences, perhaps the biggest one being not being able to understand the love for A Woman Is A Woman! I just cannot empathise with any of the characters even as ciphers as they seem so intent on putting across points of view I fundamentally disagree with (i.e. using a prospective baby as a tool of manipulation)! I like Band of Outsiders more but even then the tragic events seem more flippant somehow because the surviving couple are able to brush off the third in the love triangle's death seemingly so easily (and I don't detect much Jules and Jim style irony working beneath the surface, just Tarantino-style all on the surface emotions in that film). That is one of the reasons I am looking forward to seeing Pierrot Le Fou, as much of the negative criticism seems to focus on how big a change it was from the 'lighter, happier' Karina films! Excellent!

(Contempt is my very favourite Godard, so I suppose that makes me more predisposed to destructive, argumentative relationships rather than the happier ones! You know what they say - there is nothing more insufferable to witness than a happy cynic! :wink: )

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#90 Post by MichaelB » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:28 pm

colinr0380 wrote:On the question of context, I think that is the where DVDs really come into their own in providing that background information and easing you into the right frame of mind to fully appreciate a film. I would like to think that would free filmmakers up to not have to create all purpose films for generalised audiences or introductions to their subjects and instead get straight into the meat of their story or subject secure in the knowledge that context or introduction can be provided on the disc later on for those who need it (I think we are still a little way off from that, as there still seems to be a gap in some cases between a filmmaker and their DVD, perhaps because there is an ongoing struggle over whether a DVD is more a marketing or 'film school' tool - so you get barebone discs for films in desperate need of explanatory features or something like the latest American Pie disc coming out with commentary and two hour behind the scenes documentary!)
There's also the quantity-over-quality argument. On paper, Infinity Arthouse's release of the Taviani Brothers' The Night of the Shooting Stars looks fabulous, as it has two hefty documentaries about the Tavianis, adding up to nearly two and a half hours of material.

But in actual fact, there was such a massive overlap in terms of anecdotes that watching the second one was deeply frustrating - even more so because it wasn't chaptered (and mostly consisted of talking heads, so few visual cues) so I couldn't skip through stuff I'd already heard.

The one thing my producing mentor drummed into my head was that overlapping information across extras is one of the worst sins you can commit on a DVD. Obviously, it's often going to be hard to avoid doing this completely, but there are ways and means of minimising it. For instance, watching all planned documentaries prior to licensing to make sure that you don't have a Taviani situation (and, if you do, either shorten or drop one of them), or making sure that you watch all pre-existing extras in advance of creating new ones (so that you don't end up recycling stuff in commentaries).

And if you're creating extras from scratch, you need to schedule their creation intelligently – for instance, on one of my own projects, I shot an hour-long interview, then recorded a commentary, and only then did I edit the interview, carefully removing as many overlaps as I could without making the joins obvious.

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#91 Post by Awesome Welles » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:39 pm

colinr0380 wrote:I've had similar experiences, perhaps the biggest one being not being able to understand the love for A Woman Is A Woman! I just cannot empathise with any of the characters even as ciphers as they seem so intent on putting across points of view I fundamentally disagree with (i.e. using a prospective baby as a tool of manipulation)! I like Band of Outsiders more but even then the tragic events seem more flippant somehow because the surviving couple are able to brush off the third in the love triangle's death seemingly so easily (and I don't detect much Jules and Jim style irony working beneath the surface, just Tarantino-style all on the surface emotions in that film). That is one of the reasons I am looking forward to seeing Pierrot Le Fou, as much of the negative criticism seems to focus on how big a change it was from the 'lighter, happier' Karina films! Excellent!

(Contempt is my very favourite Godard, so I suppose that makes me more predisposed to destructive, argumentative relationships rather than the happier ones! You know what they say - there is nothing more insufferable to witness than a happy cynic!)
I think if you like Contempt you will like Pierrot, though I am not quite sure why I say that. Pierrot is one of those films that I watched and liked though wasn't quite sure why, it's one of those that I need to revisit.

On the subject of Jules et Jim, this was one of the films that made me realise as I said above I wasn't just watching films to tick the boxes because I came away thinking "what was all the fuss about!", it certainly had points of merit but it made me realise that I have my own critical ideas and to find a film that is highly regarded as being very average made me realise that I am slowly developing my own idiosyncrasies (especially, in contrast, as I have so enjoyed his latter Antoine Doinel films - still waiting to see Love on the Run though...) so I feel that carving one's own idiosyncratic taste is important and in just developing my own (still not fully formed though I think) I feel more confident in watching films with a broader knowledge of a particular area - I feel more confident in my own criticism and appreciation of that film. Which recalls Mick La Salle's not having seen the various classics - after all how can you criticise a sci-fi film if you haven't seen Blade Runner or 2001 even if you didn't like them, they are obviously important works of the genre. That's my thoughts on the matter anyway!

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#92 Post by MichaelB » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:44 pm

Conversely, I absolutely adored Une Femme est une Femme and Pierrot le Fou, and was left relatively cold by Contempt - though I'm acutely aware that watching the latter in a dubbed English print probably didn't do it any favours!

Sadly, the multilingual UK distribution print had literally fallen apart by the early 1990s, and the dubbed print was at least in pristine condition. So I've certainly seen the film in the most literal sense, though I wouldn't dream of passing judgement on it until I've heard what Godard intended me to hear.

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#93 Post by King Prendergast » Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:45 pm

MichaelB wrote:Conversely, I absolutely adored Une Femme est une Femme and Pierrot le Fou, and was left relatively cold by Contempt - though I'm acutely aware that watching the latter in a dubbed English print probably didn't do it any favours!
Definitely watch the criterion disc with the original (mostly) french dialogue and see what you think. Contempt is one of the most dense, allusive, and reflexive films ever made and must be viewed multiple times to be fully appreciated.

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#94 Post by the virgin spring » Tue Mar 04, 2008 3:51 am

colinr0380 wrote:I've had similar experiences, perhaps the biggest one being not being able to understand the love for A Woman Is A Woman! I just cannot empathise with any of the characters even as ciphers as they seem so intent on putting across points of view I fundamentally disagree with (i.e. using a prospective baby as a tool of manipulation)!
A Woman Is A Woman is one of my favorite Godard's. So stylish. Although, I'm a fan of the Gold Digger series. :roll:

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#95 Post by backstreetsbackalright » Tue Mar 04, 2008 9:52 am

MichaelB wrote:...was left relatively cold by Contempt - though I'm acutely aware that watching the latter in a dubbed English print probably didn't do it any favours!
I had the same experience, and avoided revisiting the film for years. I hadn't recalled that, when I'd first seen Contempt, it was (a) on VHS, (b) pan-and-scan, and (c) dubbed into English. The second viewing (CC DVD) was a full-on epiphany. I'd say it's worth that second look...

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#96 Post by david hare » Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:33 pm

Viewing Contempt in the English dub is an experience in schizoid metacinema. How on earth do you explain Georgia Moll's character as the interpreter without wasting your brain?

The whole multi lingual multinational filmmaking era of the 60s (with producers like de Laurentis) ia one of the many aspects of commercial filmmaking that Godard turns into a discursion, if not a theme in the picture. The innately absurd nature of it - as you can see in a project like 1900 which has three perfectly feasible valid soundtracks depending on the mood your in - becomes focussed through Prokosh and Lang (the only two English speakers who represent opposite ends of the cinematic pole. Only Lang can communicate back in French and of course German, and his role becomes a very early emblem in Godard's cinema of his exploration of language and meaning.

Contempt is a magnificent picture and even allowing for Bardot as (a very fine) stand in for Karina, it's one of the greatest films made about a marital breakdown, along with Viaggio in Italia, which Godard refs early on with a poster on the wall.

Contempt was shown in this dub in first release Sydney 1965 - in fact as I recall it was the first Godard to get a commercial release in Australia (Alphaville followed later that year, the others were solely Film Society/Festival releases.) Despite the dub and incredibly hostile audiences my excitement at seeing it was one of the first powerful experiences of a young viewing life (15). I could safely say it changed me forever.

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#97 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Mar 05, 2008 12:45 pm

davidhare wrote:Despite the dub and incredibly hostile audiences my excitement at seeing it was one of the first powerful experiences of a young viewing life (15). I could safely say it changed me forever.
I had a similar experience seeing it on the BBC when I was 14 - I remember one of my friends from school being over that night too and we watched the double bill of To Sleep With Anger and Contempt. My friend loved To Sleep With Anger (I remember him saying he preferred it to Boyz N The Hood!) but fell asleep during Contempt! It, along with seeing Solaris for the first time a couple of years earlier, was a similarly life changing experience for me as it sounds like it was for you!
davidhare wrote:Viewing Contempt in the English dub is an experience in schizoid metacinema. How on earth do you explain Georgia Moll's character as the interpreter without wasting your brain?
Yes, and the way she sanitises everything in service to Prokosh! I suppose in the dub she could be seen as a 'yes woman' repeating all her bosses comments in lackey affirmation!

One of the things that I like about all Godard's films is their use of language, which gets completely lost in a dubbed translation (though as you say in Contempt it gets particularly absurd!). At least I was able to watch the whole of A Woman Is A Woman by just concentrating on the beauty of the language and trying to ignore the meaning behind what was being said! :wink:

I tried the English dub that is included on the Criterion edition of Contempt and just couldn't manage more than a couple of minutes of it! It was enough though to notice that the dub had the music playing in a more classical underscore manner rather than drowning out the dialogue at certain points in a similar manner to the later Weekend. Whoever dubbed the film seems to have missed the reason for doing the music in that way so that it showed the crumbling relationship through a sort of half-hearted attempt at communication - that neither character is really listening to the other, or saying anything of any particular consequence and that it creates the idea of sentences tailing off in the middle as the issues beneath the surface which they are taking care to avoid threatens to erupt in the same way the music comes up to drown them out.

It also seems almost as if the composer has gotten exasperated with their chatter and decided to try and add the emotion that is so lacking from the characters by proxy! Wonderfully the most powerful moments occur when the music is not playing - the explosion between Paul and Camille in the apartment; Lang's weary "One must suffer!" before going off to chat with Prokosh, and so on!

I find it interesting that the most classical uses of music in the film come during the Lang scenes - during the walk with Paul in Italy in which it acts in the normal manner of amplifying the power of what he is saying; and in his short, silent walk from the screening room earlier in the film, which adds to the dignity he still retains under reduced circumstances.

Sometimes I think it is important to see these other versions though - the dubbed, edited, expanded or otherwise changed versions because they really help to appreciate the small details that might otherwise be overlooked in their importance but are really missed when they are absent or changed.

That also brings up the idea of how once a film is shown to audiences the reaction and what people get out of the film is sort of out of the creator's hands - I might find things that seem incredibly important to explaining why I love a particular film (or on the other hand might see tiny things that irritate me enough to pull me completely out of the film!), but then might find that was just an accident or not intended by the filmmakers to be considered such a significant moment! I think that more than anything was what shocked people about the way George Lucas treated his films - he did not seem to have had the same respect for the sequence of images he had originally created in his films than the fans who had watched his films a hundred or more times had!

That seems to be the big problem in criticising and understanding films. It is a strange mix of fixed, replayable images that should be easy to deconstruct and understand clinically to prove its 'worth' - on the other hand there is a huge amount of individual reaction that plays into any response and the best films often get you to consider yourself, what and why you are feeling the way you do, as much as understanding anything up there on the screen.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#98 Post by Alexander » Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:19 am

I've been reading these pages with interest, and was wondering how one would go about becoming a film critic/contributing author to a film magazine. Would you just send off a sample of writing and hope for the best?

I ask because I recieved some very positive feedback for my bachelor's dissertation (on Post-War Polish Cinema), and have been thinking about doing something with it, but have been unsure of the best way to go about it.

Any help would be much appreciated.

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#99 Post by MichaelB » Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:54 am

Alexander wrote:I've been reading these pages with interest, and was wondering how one would go about becoming a film critic/contributing author to a film magazine. Would you just send off a sample of writing and hope for the best?
In a word, yes.

In several words, it's usually a good idea to pitch directly to a named individual - and make sure that the pitch is appropriate for the publication.

It's also a very good idea to establish a unique selling point - for instance we get loads of wannabe writers saying that they know lots about Sixties cult TV, whereas we'd be far more interested in someone with specialist knowledge of early 20th century "phantom rides" or 1950s TV documentaries - in other words, something where we don't already have a substantial pool of knowledge to draw upon.

With Sight & Sound I more or less lucked into the Eastern European beat - the first piece I sold to them was an overview of the Ruscico project (when it was still in its infancy), and that and the Svankmajer DVD project (which I began work on in early 2004) established me as someone who might be competent to tackle an unclassifiable Hungarian film like Hukkle - which was the first commission that I didn't initiate myself. And since then I've been given first refusal on the overwhelming majority of Eastern European titles, which suits me just fine - especially as one new Polish film is opening more or less every month in Britain since The Polish Connection initiative was set up, and I've covered six out of seven.

All of which underlines a crucial point: getting a first commission is relatively easy. It's getting the second from the same publication that's the tough one - and a regular slot is the hardest of all. And also, in this day and age, there's no excuse for not building up a substantial body of writing online, even if it's only on a personal blog - this can make a crucial difference if you apply for a job and are neck and neck with another candidate (and I'm very much speaking from experience here).

But it's certainly possible - less than a year ago, one of my friends had no reputation to speak of and no track record. She's now had at least two pieces published in each of three separate outlets - and while I pulled strings to get her into two of them, she did the third entirely on her own initiative, and that's the one where she seems to have landed a regular gig. True, she's not earning much more than pocket money, but she is earning something.

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#100 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Mar 06, 2008 2:07 pm

Gothamist interviews J. Hoberman.

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